Matthew 5:1-12, Revelation 7:9-17
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
We must know that happiness is not in brick and mortar, steel and leather, food and wine, skin and silk. We have been hurt by those things. We have seen the destructive obsession, addiction, and demise of friends and family in those things. But we have not learned. Our daydreams give us away. We are near-slaves to our stomachs and libidos. Imagine the shame we would endure if men could read our thoughts even for a moment. What if your co-workers knew what your doodles meant or heard the daydreams you indulge during meetings? Repent.
The sad reality is we spend our waking hours obsessed with ourselves, and when we sleep, we dream of nothing else. We waste our lives adding up the cost of all the things we want: a new car, a new house, a quick way out of debt, a dream vacation, a life of leisure, a slimmer waist, a more attentive husband, honor and prestige from our friends and countrymen, a college fund for our children, a fat retirement for ourselves! Surely we must know that happiness is not in these things. But why then do we dream of them so often, so thoroughly? Why do we add up the cost and think of what we do if we became suddenly rich? We know that happiness is not in these things. But we do not believe it. We have not learned. Is it any wonder then that our prayers are so anemic, so sickly weak? They are offered up in haste, mostly without hope or in panic, by thoughtless rote, for superstition´s, or even for reputation’s sake. We daydream and surf the internet, watch tv and drink, more than we pray.
St. John the Divine, son of thunder, seer of visions, and beloved of Our Lord, was no better. He even tried to worship an angel once. He fell asleep in the garden of betrayal. He followed Peter on the Mount of Transfiguration and wanted to stay there rather than have men saved by the Messiah´s exodus through death and the grave. But the Lord would not leave John alone in his depression and pain. Even in his peculiar cross of exile on Patmos, the Lord came to him to comfort and forgive. He showed St. John the future to come: the saints, even he and the ten, and Matthias and Paul, and the Patriarchs and prophets, and the martyrs, the confessors, the virgins, the catechumens, the faithful, the good and the bad, the greatest and the least, a great company without number, thousands upon thousands from every continent and time, from every nation and tongue, with every color of skin and hair and eyes ever bestowed upon men, short and fat, tall and thin, learned and simple, girls and boys, children and adults, all arrayed in white, free at last, with branches of palm and songs of praise – the life to come. In exile and alone on earth, John was never alone. The Lord was with him always, and so, too, were the saints, the cloud of witnesses who upheld him with perfected prayers and beseeched the Lamb once slain but alive with the constant request, “How long, O Lord? How long?’
These saints already delivered, who died in the faith and were born into heaven, seen by John, do what we try to do but are as yet unable. They pray in perfection and without sin. They know no fear, no sorrow, no selfish desires. They have been granted relief of the things we now endure: poverty, meekness, hunger and thirst, and persecution. They are blessed. The kingdom of heaven is theirs. They are comforted. They have obtained mercy. They see God. They are the sons of God. Free of all burdens they now pray without fail or guile and always for us. They are free of the pain, but not the memory. For while they do not suffer in any way or miss us, nonetheless, they feel the kinship to us on earth more strongly than do we to them. They are more aware of our unity than we. For they are selfless and pure in heart. They have come out of the great tribulation and bleached their souls in Jesus´ Blood and they waiting for you to join them.
That is what comforted St. John . There on Patmos´ lonely shores he saw the days to come. He saw his brothers and his sisters triumphant and in glory. He knew their faces and their names. They were his friends and his loved ones, his teachers and his children. He was glad for them, that they were free and at rest. But He was also glad to have them on his side, to see the love of God in men made righteous by grace and alive from the dead, and to have the promise of his own impending resurrection and reward.
Now your sanctification is not yet complete. The good work begun in you is not yet done. Your faith has not yet come full course. That is why your prayers are yet hindered by your daydreams, by your lusts. But your justification, the forgiveness and righteous that God has declared for you, the reconciliation to the Father, your unity in the bond of the Spirit, is complete and full. There is no more. Christ Your Lord has bestowed His Grace. He has washed you clean. He has claimed you as His own. There is no more to do, no more to pay, you are perfect in the sight of God and belong to Him.
So now you wait. You wait for the day when your sanctification will be a perfect match with your justification, when you will be free of temptation and your prayers will not falter, when you will be as the saints in white as seen by John. In the meantime, their prayers avail much. They show us the way. We honor them. We are encouraged by them. We imitate them. And we benefit immeasurably from their intercessions and their prayers. For however weak and sinful we might be, however inwardly turned, conceited, and arrogant we are, the love God cannot be stopped. Death is dead. Life lives. Jesus loves to forgive. His death and resurrection makes all things new. He washes the souls of the saints. He places the palms into their hands. This great throng of saints did not come about by the doing of the saints, but of God. That is why they sing: “Salvation belongs to God.’ Salvation belongs to God. He changes the hearts of men. These saints now so glorious were once like us: poor in spirit, mourning, meek, afraid, uncertain, hurting, lonely, persecuted, afflicted with daydreams, and reviled. Now they are like Christ: immaculate, radiant, confident, whole, alive, full of joy and peace. Now they are what we will be.
For the same Holy Spirit that abides in them also abides in you. There is by one Church on heaven and on earth. O weak man! You think that you are not good enough? You are not like them? The Father and the Son think differently. They love you with the same love, the same commitment, the same zeal. They placed their Holy Name upon you on purpose. And if the prayers of saints triumphant do much good, and they do, then how much more good is done by the prayers that words cannot express, offered from within you by the Holy Spirit? God Himself prays for you. You are already now a saint of God, no different than your brothers in heaven, except that your fight is not yet done. For a time you are hidden from the world. At times you are even hidden from yourself, but God will reveal you to all creation as His son or daughter at the last day. Your sanctification is not yet full. Your sins still hurt. You wound those you love. You still suffer in this chaos of death, the last gasps of the dying enemy, but you are blessed. By grace you believe, you hope, you trust, you wait. Better days are coming. St. John the Divine has now been relieved. So, too, have some of your loved ones. And while no man can number the multitude of saints around the throne of grace, the God who counts the hairs on your head can. He counts you among that multitude. That is why the water and the Word were poured upon you, why He called you out of darkness to life, and why He feeds you with His Body and His Blood. His Word does not return void. He keeps His promises. He does not forgot. He will supplant your daydreams with visions.
In +Jesus´ Name. Amen.
–Rev. David H. Petersen